Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

O’Neill finds it hard to look ahead with hope

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is now winless in five matches at the helm and his prospects of making it sixth time lucky appear remote.

His side's next opponents are Euro 2012 semi-finalists Portugal in Porto and the former Shamrock Rovers boss already appears to be limiting expectations for that match.

“We're in a very difficult position,” he admitted after Tuesday night’s home draw with Luxembourg.

“We had hoped to have three points now but we have one point. We go to Portugal next which is an extremely difficult game and I don' think anyone would expect a lot from that game.

“But we'll go with the same mentality we went to Russia with, that we can take something out of the game.

“What can people hope for? Hopefully they will see a more competitive performance for longer in the game.”

As if the challenge of taking on Cristiano Ronaldo and company was not hard enough, O'Neill knows he must do so without the help of top central defender Gareth McAuley, arguably his country's form player over the last year.

The West Brom man was booked against both Russia and Luxembourg and will miss the trip to Dragao Stadium as a result.

“That's disappointing. It was very soft yellow card last, very little in it at all,” said O'Neill.

“As a result of that we miss Gareth with two bookings. I thought he was excellent for us out in Moscow so it's a big blow because when you go to the likes of Portugal you need your big players.

“Gareth is one of our big players and a mainstay of the back four.”

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